Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Murdoch's empty philosophy

Rupert Murdoch has come back to Australia to deliver the 2008 Boyer Lectures. An extract of the first lecture was in yesterday's papers. It's interesting to run through it, as it shows how deeply committed Murdoch is to a right-liberal politics.

There are two aspects of right-liberalism to remember here. First, there is the radical individualism, in which people are treated as abstract, atomised individuals without any defining attachment to a communal tradition.

Second, there is the right-liberal commitment to the free market. If society is made up of millions of competing, atomised wills then how can a society hold together? The right-liberal answer is that these competing wills can be harmonised through the pursuit of individual profit in a free market. We can act selfishly for our own profit to the benefit of both society and human progress.

Therefore, right-liberals have a vision of Economic Man, in which we best realise our human purposes through participation in the market.

So it's not surprising that the theme of Murdoch's lecture is the need for Australians to organise themselves more efficiently to compete in the global market.

Murdoch begins his lecture on a positive note: he believes that we have arrived at a golden age for humankind and that "We've seen the unleashing of human talent and ability across our world". Later, we learn that he's referring to the ability of India and China's middle classes to create wealth in the market place - this is his understanding of what human talent and ability are rightly directed to.

He then tells Australians that our greatest challenge is not cultural or spiritual but ... economic. We have to organise ourselves more efficiently to compete in the global market. We have to be a "centre of excellence" - excellence understood, of course, as success in economic competition.

Murdoch then points to the success of India and China's middle classes who, by creating wealth, have shown that they are "intent on developing skills, improving their lives and showing the world what they can do".

We are then informed that Australia has an advantage because we are "an open, democratic and multi-racial society". We have got with the liberal programme in which there is only the individual and our free participation in the market.

Unfortunately, continues Murdoch, radical reform is still needed. Murdoch holds to the right-liberal preference for a small state - therefore, he complains about the growing number of Australians receiving government assistance. He writes: "The larger the government, the less room for Australians to exercise their talents and initiative" (meaning economic talents and initiative).

He writes in a similar vein that what is needed is "smaller government and an end to the paternalism that nourishes political correctness, promotes government interference and undermines freedom and personal responsibility".

We're then told that we have to reform our education system - not to disseminate knowledge and culture - but to best prepare Australians to participate in a global economy. We're back to Economic Man once more.

Murdoch follows this by giving his support to reconciliation with Aborigines and to open borders.

The support for open borders isn't surprising. If we are just atomised individuals realising ourselves in the market place, then you probably won't see the need to limit immigration. It will just appear to be a restriction on the free movement of labour.

This is how Murdoch justifies his support for open borders:

Thank goodness we are beyond where we were a few decades ago. We buried "White Australia", and have raised a modern, diverse society. This does not mean we are neutral or valueless.

We must expect immigrants to learn our language and embrace the principles that make Australia a decent and tolerant nation.

It's interesting that he's defensive about Australia being neutral and valueless. He doesn't exactly disprove the claim: all that immigrants are expected to do is to speak English and embrace the value of tolerance. It doesn't exactly add up to a rich distinctive culture. It could be England, America or New Zealand or anywhere else in the Anglosphere. It's a remarkably "thin" concept of what Australia is.

Murdoch finishes by calling for free trade, the development of clean energy, Australian military involvement to combat terrorism and a republic.

I agree with Murdoch on a few points. I believe it's better to keep the role of the central government limited and to minimise welfare dependency. Nor am I against profit seeking in the market.

I can't, though, follow a philosophy which so limits the concept of who we are and what a community is for. Success in the market might be a necessary thing for a nation, but it doesn't define the purpose of a nation and its institutions.

I am not Economic Man and my abilities and talents do not primarily exist to pursue profit in the market.

When Murdoch was young, the main choices in politics were a left and right-liberalism. It's not surprising, given this limited choice, that a businessman would prefer right-liberalism.

But we now need to think beyond such political limitations. We need to develop a politics which upholds a wider set of goods in society, one which recognises in a more sophisticated way what it means to be human.

We are not just individual agents in a global market; people are not simply latent "human capital" to be liberated for economic purposes. Murdoch's philosophy doesn't do us justice.


  1. Of course, Murdoch stands to profit from his philosophy (if you can call it that). It's fair to assume that Murdoch pushes it out of his own selfish economic interest.

    I like the Randian spin: the greater good will be accomplished best by everyone being maximally and efficiently selfish. And we really need government to get out of the way for us to do that!

  2. Given that Rupert Murdoch traded his Australian citizenship for an American passport decades ago, his professed concern for Australia’s future rings hollow. His loyalty is certainly not with Australia.

    The truth is that Murdoch is a one-world globalist who views that nation-state as an obstacle to the free movement of labour. He and his fellow trans-national elites consider national sovereignty and borders to be tiresome inefficiencies on the global economy. What Murdoch and his post-national class of oligarchs envisage is a 21st century where the global economy and the corporations which dominate it are no longer constrained by nation-states.

    If Murdoch had his way, Australia wouldn’t even exist in anything but a geographical sense.

  3. Jaz, Citizen Sane, agreed.

    The only thing I'd add is that you don't have to be an oligarch to take Murdoch's view of things.

    As Citizen Sane points out in an excellent post at his own site, right-liberal journalists (neoconservatives) like Janet Albrechtsen and Andrew Bolt generally support the idea of diverse ongoing immigration combined with assimilation into a set of liberal political values.

    Yes, there's self-interest involved for men like Murdoch, but he's also expressing a long-standing philosophy of the liberal right.

  4. It's the same these days with so-called "conservative" magazines like Quadrant, of course. Every type of sleazy globalist multiculti apparatchik - preferably from some fourth-rate "university" or other - is allowed in Quadrant's pages, so long as he/she utters a few token wails about mullahs. Only traditional conservatives (and more specifically traditionally Catholic conservatives) are banned from the magazine's pages - a fact that editor Keith Windschuttle, like his predecessor P. P. McGuinness, has never denied. (If he did deny it, he would be a liar, for which role I doubt that he is now sufficiently intelligent.)

  5. I think Murdoch overlooks the value of having a cultural identity with a shared set of values. Most non-white countries understand this & aren't rushing to open their borders to be culturally enriched:

    "A wide-ranging "global attitudes" survey of more than 45,000 people in 47 countries released yesterday by the Pew Research Center finds assorted populations are warm to the benefits of global trade. But they're cool — downright chilly in some cases — toward the toll it could exact on their national identities.

    Should each country guard their innate culture and lifestyle? The answer was a rousing "yes" — again in 46 out of 47 of the countries. In the U.S., 62 percent said we should protect our way of life. Those sentiments were more pronounced among Republicans (71 percent) than Democrats (60 percent).

    The number was just more than half in Britain, France and Germany, but 90 percent in Egypt, Indonesia and India.

    Perils of immigration concerned people in 44 out of the 47 countries, where the majority of respondents said immigration should be more restricted in their homelands.

    Only Japanese, South Koreans and Palestinians were comfortable with their immigration policies. Three-quarters of the American respondents wanted more restrictions; similar findings were revealed in Spain, Britain and Russia."

    Interestingly, the Japanese are happy with their immigration policies, which are very strict. Demographically, 98% of the population are Japanese.


    Even the highly touted benefits of diversity in the workplace aren't backed by evidence:

    "The multibillion-dollar diversity industry is thriving in corporate America. But before you spend another dime on your diversity program, carefully consider this conclusion reached by Thomas A. Kochan, one of the most respected human resources management scholars in the country: "The diversity industry is built on sand," he declares. "The business case rhetoric for diversity is simply naïve and overdone. There are no strong positive or negative effects of gender or racial diversity on business performance."